Early Doctors of Red River and Manitoba
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1947-48 Season
The story of the very early doctors of Manitoba is inextricably bound up with the fur trade. The first white medical man in the North-West was probably Charles Doullon Desmarets, who spent three years, 1753 to 1756, on the shores of the Western Sea (Lake Superior). He was employed both as surgeon and factor by Chevalier de la Corne, who was engaged in the fur trade about Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods. Ships of the Hudson’s Bay Company brought with them surgeons, who in some instances remained in the country for varying periods. The history of these early surgeons can be obtained only by laborious sifting out of old records, and we are much indebted to Dr. H. H. Chown of Winnipeg, who in his leisure moments extracted the precious material from the mass of archives.
With the coming of the Selkirk Settlers we are on surer ground. Lord Selkirk sent out five groups of settlers for his Red River Colony in the years 1811 to 1815. A surgeon was attached to each party and placed second in command. Mr. Abel Edwards, surgeon, left Stornoway on 26 July 1811, with the first group. After a stormy voyage of sixty-two days the ship arrived at York Factory, too late for the settlers to make the overland trip to the Red River before the advent of winter. In the spring the party travelled slowly over the rivers and lakes and reached the forks of the Red and Assiniboine on 18 August 1812. Edwards was one of the men named by the Earl to receive the formal transfer of the Selkirk grant of 119,000 square miles from the Hudson’s Bay Company on 4 September 1812, the ceremony being conducted with considerable pomp. “Afterwards,” as Edwards states in his diary, “we crossed the river and spent the evening with the gentlemen of the North West Company at Fort Gibraltar at the junction.” He was one of the first to write on the natural history of Rupert’s Land, for in the bibliography attached to The Geological Formations of Manitoba, written in 1925 by Prof. R. C. Wallace, now Principal of Queen’s University, we read: “Notes taken during the summer of 1812 on a journey to Lake Winnipeg and the Red River, by Abel Edwards, surgeon at the Settlement on Red River, together with a description of the specimens collected by Mr. Holdsworth, surgeon at York Fort. Trans. Geol. Soc., First Series, Vol. 5, London, 1821, pages 606-607.” George Holdsworth was surgeon at York Factory and later at the Red River Settlement, where, in February 1814, he was appointed member of Miles Macdonell’s Council. It was he who posted a notice of the Hudson’s Bay Pemmican Law on the door of the North West Company’s post on the Souris, but Mr. John Pritchard, the North West trader at that post, relates that “he did it with courtesy.”
The second party in 1812 was accompanied by Dr. Thomas McKeevor, but he did not proceed to the Red River. In 1819, when, on account of the struggle between the two great fur companies, attention was focussed on the NorthWest, he produced a slender volume, A Voyage to Hudson’s Bay During the Summer of 1812. Therein he related one of his professional experiences:
The coming of the baby seemed to bring good luck, as he records that “the weather began to clear up and, with the exception of a few showers, it was fine all day.”
The third part, in 1813, had as their surgeon Peter Laserre, a Guernsey man, nephew of Sir Isaac Brock, a skilled physician and well educated. Unfortunately, ship fever broke out of the Prince of Wales, the first time on any Hudson’s Bay boat since 1670. Laserre fought the disease as best he could, first on shipboard and later in the camp near Fort Churchill, but there he succumbed. The remaining sick were cared for by Kate MacPherson, aged 26, who died at an advanced age at Kildonan, revered by all who knew her as one of the pioneer women of the Red River.
Dr. James White, an Edinburgh graduate who had been Assistant Surgeon on HMS Beagle, 1809-1811, came with the fourth party in 1814. He was then 25 years of age. His remuneration was fixed at £50 per annum, with lodging and subsistence for the first two years, and at the end of his term he was to receive five hundred acres of land in the colony. He was appointed a member of Miles Macdonell’s Council in July 1814, and, when Macdonell surrendered himself as prisoner to the North West Company in 1815, Dr. White became the leader. The coming of the settlers fanned the strife between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company to fever height, and on 11 June 1815, as Dr. White was pacing in the governor’s house, a shot whizzed by him. He headed the settlers who removed to Jack River (Norway House) in the same month. He returned in time to build a new Fort Douglas before Captain Semple, who led the fifth party, reached the Forks in November 1815.
With Captain Semple was a Dr. Wilkinson, apparently acting only as surgeon on the voyage, as he is mentioned as private secretary to Semple in the colony. Both Dr. White and Dr. Wilkinson fell with Captain, then Governor Semple, and eighteen others in the clash at Seven Oaks on 19 June 1816.
After the union of the two companies in 1821, and under the guidance of George Simpson, the little settlement on the Red River seems never to have been without a medical man. Doctors Todd, Hamlyn, Saunders, Fisher and Hendry are mentioned in old records. William Todd, an Irishman and a former naval surgeon, attended Mrs. George Simpson in her first confinement. In 1831, after having been in charge of Brandon House, he was transferred to the new post at Fort Ellice, and later was chief trader in charge of Swan River district until 1843.
Dr. Hendry is referred to in the Minutes of the Council of the Northern District of Rupert’s Land, 8 June 1833, as having given a medical certificate of Chief Factor McKenzie’s ill health, and Thomas Simpson, writing on 19 December 1831, to Donald Ross, also mentions him: “The Governor (George Simpson) drives tandem at a terrible rate. Mr. McMillan sports a very dashing horse and sleigh, and Dr. Hendry, Mr. Ballenden and I, being all well provided, follow in suitable style.”
Julian Richard Hamlyn is mentioned in Sir George Simpson’s correspondence as “the strangest compound of skill, simplicity, selfishness, extravagance, musical taste and want of courtesy I ever fell in with.” In a letter from Thomas Simpson to Donald Ross, written at Fort Garry, 12 March 1831, he is again mentioned: “The settlement has been extraordinarily prolific in births this season, and sickness and mortality are very rare. Dr. Hamlyn, however, seems to find plenty of employment. He has two fine horses and is continually galloping about.” He accompanied the governor on his famous trip from York Factory to the Pacific coast. An oil portrait of Dr. Hamlyn is in the City Hall at Winnipeg.
With 1832 began a new phase of the medical situation. This date marked the return to the Red River of Dr. John Bunn, who had been born in the settlement in 1802, and graduated in medicine from Edinburgh University in 1832. His father had belonged to one of the companies of the City of London, and, as such, was a liveryman. Coming to the Red River Settlement, he became an officer of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1835 Dr. Bunn became a member of the first Council of Assiniboia, formed by the governor to control the affairs of the District of Assiniboia, a territory including all land within a fifty-mile radius of the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. All members were appointed by the Board of Governors in London. This council was the legislative and administrative body until 1869, when the territory passed from the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Dr. Bunn held several other positions, such as Clerk of the Court, Sheriff and Coroner. In the latter capacity he was sent in 1840 to investigate the circumstances in connection with the tragic and mysterious death of Thomas Simpson, Arctic explorer and cousin of the governor. Dr. Bunn was the “Weelum McClure” of the Red River, and many tales are still told by the old settlers of his wit, his professional skill in emergencies, and his cheerfulness in traveling over wide areas to visit patients, and of his kindness of heart. In summer he rode horseback; in winter he travelled with horse carriole or dog team. Dr. Bunn’s sudden death from apoplexy at Fort Garry on the morning of 31 May 1861, occurred at the time of a great flood, and the venerable Archbishop Matheson, at that time a boy, recalls with what profound sorrow the settlers assembled at Bird’s Hill for a Sunday service, received the announcement. Dr. Bunn was attended on this occasion by Dr. Paxton, a surgeon with the detachment of the Royal Canadian Regiment then located at Fort Garry. Dr. Bunn’s son, Thomas Bunn, played an important part in the negotiations attending the transfer of Manitoba from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Government of Canada, and a great grandson, Dr. C. R. R. Bunn, is a well-known practitioner at Red Deer, Alberta.
It must not be thought that it is a new thing for the authorities to provide for payment to doctors for services rendered to indigent patients, since in the Minutes of the Northern Department of Rupert’s Land, held at Red River Settlement on 1 June 1833, we read:
In the minutes of the Council of 1837 it was further resolved:
The last resolution was repeated each year until 1843.
The threat of war over the Oregon boundary lead to the Sixth Warwickshire Regiment, under Lt.-Col. Crofton, being sent by the British Government to Lower Fort Garry. The troops arrived in September 1846, and with them as Medical Officer was Dr. Duncan. In Women of Red River he is mentioned as having built an organ for the first St. Boniface Cathedral. He left the settlement when the troops were withdrawn in 1848.
The presence of these troops did much to create respect for law and order in the settlement, and on their departure a number of pensioners were sent out in 1849. On the sailing ship which brought them and the first bishop to Hudson’s Bay (Dr. David Anderson) was their surgeon, Dr. William Cowan. He was a Scotsman who graduated from the University of Glasgow and began practice in that city when Asiatic cholera was raging. He contracted the disease himself, and though he recovered, he was so reduced in health that he sought an opportunity to go to British Columbia. The Hudson’s Bay Company had no vacancy there, but informed him that the War Office required a surgeon for the pensioners. Later he joined the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company and was physician to their employees, as well as acting in consultations with other doctors who appreciated his scholarship and medical skill. In 1856 he went to Moose Factory as surgeon in charge of that post; in 1860 he became Chief Trader, and in 1862 he returned to the Red River. Two years later he visited England, and on his return was in charge at Norway House. In 1866 he returned to Fort Garry to be second in command to Governor McTavish. The governor was an old and very sick man, and much of the responsibility of administration fell on Dr. Cowan. He was in charge of Fort Garry when Riel and his party marched in from the Sale River on 2 November 1869, after having turned back the Hon. Wm. MacDougall, who had come from Eastern Canada to be governor of the new Province of Manitoba. Riel’s men slipped quietly into Fort Garry, and when Dr. Cowan ordered the two Métis at the main gate to be off, they replied that they had come to protect the fort against a danger. To the query, “What danger?” they returned an evasive answer. Dr. Cowan learned that Riel was in charge and sent for him. Riel promised to withdraw his men, but, instead, doubled the guards and, usurping more and more power, finally took possession of all the buildings within the fort and imprisoned Dr. Cowan. The latter was able to escape to the Lower Fort, and thence made his way by York boat to Hudson’s Bay, and by ship to England. Later he returned to Winnipeg, and in 1879 he was chairman of a meeting to organize the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba and became the first vice-president. A few years afterward he removed to St. Paul, where he died in 1902. Some of his medical books were donated to the medical library of the University of Manitoba. Dr. O’Donnell, a contemporary, writes of him as “a man of refined tastes and one of nature’s noblemen.”
H. S. Beddome was born in London in 1832, and took his medical course at Guy’s Hospital, London. In 1851, after completing two years of his course, he went out to York Factory as ship’s surgeon on the Company’s ship which yearly took supplies. After graduating in 1852 he set out for Rupert’s Land, and practised at the Red River until 1859, when he married Frances Omand and went to York Factory as Hudson’s Bay surgeon. He returned to the Red River in 1865 and practised in St. Andrew’s up till the time of his death, 20 March 1881. He died at Headingly at the residence of his son-in-law, the late John Taylor, Jr., and was buried in St. Andrew’s churchyard. During the outbreak of small-pox among the Icelanders at Gimli, in 1876, which lasted six months, he treated the sufferers, enduring many hardships and privations. His practice in St. Andrew’s yielded little remuneration, but his life was spent in trying to relieve the sick. His yellowed diplomas from Guy’s Hospital, bearing date May 26, 1852, have on them such famous signatures as those of Thomas Addison of Addison’s Disease fame, John Hilton, who wrote the surgical classic, Rest and Pain, and Alfred Taylor, whose work on medical jurisprudence is still an authority in courts of law. No better evidence of the general lack of knowledge concerning Rupert’s Land in 1852 can be given than the fact that on his certificate of membership from the Royal College of Surgeons of London, the name and address of the member are given as “Henry Septimus Beddome, Hudson’s Bay, North America.”
Curtis James Bird, son of Chief Factor James Curtis Bird, a Governor of Assiniboia, was born in 1838 at Marchmont House, Middlechurch, Red River Settlement, educated at St. John’s College, and took his medical course in Guy’s Hospital, London. He returned to the Red River, practising first at Middlechurch, where he lived on the Bird estate, but later moving to the new City of Winnipeg. He succeeded Dr. Bunn as coroner in 1861, was a member of the Council of Assiniboia in 1868, and a member of the Provisional Convention which met in 1869. He was one of those appointed in 1869 to frame a Bill of Rights, the other members being James Ross, Thomas Bunn (son of Dr. Bunn), Louis Riel, Louis Schmidt and Charles Nolin. When Manitoba became a province he was elected member for St. Paul’s Parish in the Legislative Assembly and was made speaker. A ruling which he gave regarding a bill to incorporate the City of Winnipeg, bringing him into bad odor, he was lured out, ostensibly to see a patient on the highway leading north one night, and was waylaid and tarred and feathered by a gang of disguised men. While on a trip to England in May, 1876, he contracted pneumonia and died. He was the “Beau Brummel” of the profession, a good diagnostician, and a man of culture and refinement.
In the 1860s medical men from Eastern Canada began to turn their eyes to the Red River colony. Foremost among these was John Christian Schultz, a native of Amherstburg, Ontario, whose life was a real romance, culminating in his being appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba (1888 to 1896) and receiving knighthood from Queen Victoria. Born on 1 January 1840, he inherited from Viking ancestors the fair hair, blue eyes and immense frame which enabled him to stand tremendous privations in the stirring days of the North West.
While a medical student at Queen’s University he visited “The Forks” in 1860, and became greatly interested in the possibilities of the great new country. After completing his studies he returned the following year, and when the Institute of Rupert’s Land was formed, a scientific and historical organization of which Wm. McTavish, Governor of Assiniboia, was president, he became secretary. He was the first doctor in that community to venture to any extent on surgery, under the primitive sanitary conditions prevailing. In addition to his medical practice he had a drug store at what is now the corner of Main and Water Streets, and engaged in the fur trade, which led to clashes with the Hudson’s Bay Company. As an example of his hardihood may be mentioned the perilous trip made by himself and an American companion from St. Paul to Fort Garry in the fall of 1861. Travelling only by night and without camp fires, they succeeded in restoring communications which had been interrupted for months on account of the “Spirit Lake Massacre” of American settlers by the Sioux.
The Rev. Mr. Garrioch, in First Furrows, tells this story of Dr. Schultz: “In 1867 the writer was at St. Cloud and present at the railway station when the doctor’s carts were being loaded with goods for the return to the Settlement. As each ox-cart received its load, averaging about nine hundred pounds, it was hauled aside from the platform to make room for the next. A stalwart half-breed had made a determined but vain effort to move one of these loaded carts aside, when the doctor came up and, taking his place between the shafts, rapidly and gracefully moved it the required distance, and as he returned said to his man, ‘You see, Tom, I am the better ox.’ In 1864 he was Worshipful Master of Northern Light Lodge, the first lodge of Masons in British North America west of the Great Lakes. Dr. Bird was Steward. He purchased the Nor’Wester, the first paper published in the Red River Settlement, and wrote many fiery articles against the monopoly of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Later he disposed of the Nor’Wester to his associate, Dr. Bown, a dentist. When Riel formed his Provisional Government, Schultz hoisted the red ensign with the word “Canada” across the whole face on the flagpole in front of the Nor’Wester office. Goods belonging to the Canadian Government were stored in his warehouse, and when it appeared likely that Riel would seize them, Schultz and his friends determined to defend the warehouse. Riel’s men brought a cannon from Fort Garry on 7 December 1869 and, Schultz’s party being outnumbered, they surrendered and 45 men were taken as prisoners to Fort Garry. At first they were kept together, but later Schultz was placed in solitary confinement. His wife smuggled in to him a knife and a gimlet, and on the cold, stormy evening of 23 January 1870, the doctor made his escape by cutting his buffalo robe into strips, forming a rope, which was secured to the frame of the window by the gimlet. The rope was insufficient for his great weight and he fell to the ground, injuring his leg. However, he succeeded in scaling the outer palisade, and made his way to Kildonan, where he was sheltered by Mr. Robert MacBeth. Riel put a high price on his head, but in March Schultz and the half-breed guide, Joseph Monkman, succeeded in eluding Riel’s guards and made their way by snow-shoe and dog-train overland to Duluth, and thence to Eastern Canada. He and the poet, Charles Mair, his nephew by marriage, addressed many meetings in Ontario after the shooting of Scott, and their eloquence was largely responsible for the formation of the Ontario Rifles, which accompanied Col. Wolseley’s regulars. After Manitoba entered Confederation Schultz was elected M.P. for Lisgar, and later was appointed to the Senate. On 5 July 1888, he was sworn in as Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba. In 1896 he died in Mexico, whither he had gone in search of health, and was laid to rest in St. John’s Cemetery, Winnipeg.
Dr. James S. Lynch came to the Red River in 1868 with the Snow party, whose purpose was to build a road from the north-west angle of the Lake of the Woods to Winnipeg. In the troublous days of 1869 Col. Dennis authorized Dr. Lynch to raise a company of English Canadians in Winnipeg. Dr. Lynch was one of four doctors imprisoned by Riel in Fort Garry. He was present at a meeting called by Lieutenant-Governor Archibald in 1871 to discuss the formation of a hospital in Winnipeg, and he, together with Doctors O’Donnell and Jackes, formed the first staff of the Winnipeg General Hospital. He was in charge of measures directed against the small-pox epidemic at Gimli in 1876, and was a member of the Sanitary Board of the District of Keewatin, formed to deal with infectious diseases among the Indians. He practised for a time at Portage la Prairie and contested the Marquette seat in 1871 with Angus McKay. The vote was a tie and both candidates proceeded to Ottawa to claim the seat, but, before the committee appointed to investigate the matter reported, the house dissolved and Dr. Lynch did not seek re-election. In 1877 he became the first president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, and after his death the Council of the College awarded a silver medal, the Lynch Clinical Medal, for the best clinical report of cases treated in the Winnipeg General Hospital. He died in 1894. Archbishop Matheson, in a personal communication, told the following story of his passing: “I visited him at the Winnipeg General Hospital during his last illness and he died in my arms. Courageous and bright to the last, when his wife came in as he was just passing away, and said, ‘Do you know me, James?’ ‘Why, of course,' was his reply, ‘I was present at your wedding, if you can look back that far.’ Dr. H. H. Chown speaks of him as “a true gentleman in appearance, in manner and in spirit.”
John Harrison O‘Donnell was born in Simcoe County, Ontario, graduated in medicine at Victoria University in 1861, and in 1869 set out for the Red River Settlement. In St. Paul he met Mr. Jas. J. Hill, who warned him that the Métis at Fort Garry were threatening mischief to the Hon. Wm. McDougall. Mr. Hill, however, introduced the doctor to one of the Red River pioneers, William Gomez Fonseca, and on his advice the doctor sacrificed his black Dundreary whiskers and enrobed himself in native-made jacket, cap, belt and moccasins. Mr. McDougall’s party joined theirs, but, although the vice-regal party was stopped near the present St. Norbert, Fonseca and O’Donnell were allowed to proceed. Dr. O’Donnell was taken prisoner on the surrender of Dr. Schultz’s warehouse; later he was released from Fort Garry. As Justice of the Peace, he swore out a warrant for the arrest of Riel and Lepine after the coming of Col. Wolseley’s party.
On the creation of the Legislative Council on 15 March 1871, Dr. O’Donnell became speaker of that body, and remained a member until Manitoba’s Upper House was dissolved in January 1876. He took an active part in the formation of the Winnipeg General Hospital, and was president of the attending staff until 1882, and senior consulting physician from that date up to the time of his death. He was president of the Medical Board, which later became the College of Physicians and Surgeons, first president of the Manitoba Board of Health, and a member of the first University Council. In 1897, when the British Medical Association met at Montreal, he bore with him to that meeting a letter from Hon. Thomas Greenway, Premier of Manitoba, inviting the association to meet in Winnipeg, an invitation which was accepted thirty-three years later. He died in Winnipeg in 1912.
Dr. A. G. Jackes was one of the suite of Hon. Wm. McDougall but, unlike the other members, he was allowed to proceed to Red River. For a time he practised at Portage la Prairie, but moved to Winnipeg in 1873 and commenced a practice which soon developed into one of the largest in the city. He was a witness to the signatures to the Lake Winnipeg Treaty in 1875, and was secretary to the Indian Treaty Commission in 1876 when treaties were made at Forts Carlton and Pitt.
Dr. Alfred Codd, as medical officer, accompanied the Ontario Rifles in the Wolseley Expedition of 1870, and settled in Winnipeg. For many years he was surgeon at Fort Osborne Barracks, in addition to carrying on a large private practice.
Dr. E. Benson came to Manitoba in 1874. He was coroner for Winnipeg and chairman of the School Board, and by his geniality, kindness and sense of humor endeared himself to a large circle.
In 1882 Winnipeg had grown very rapidly, and the number of doctors had correspondingly increased. Of this group of physicians, Dr. F. H. Mewburn, on the occasion of the presentation to the University of Alberta, in September 1926, of an oil painting of the Hon. R. G. Brett, M.D., Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta, spoke as follows: “It was in 1882 I first met Dr. Brett. He was one of a remarkable group of medical men for as new a city as Winnipeg to have; a group headed by Lynch and including Blanchard, Kerr, Good, Jones, A. H. Ferguson, R. B. Fergusson, McDiarmid, Gray, Whiteford and others; Chown and Higginson came later.”
The infant province found many problems on its hands, among them being the care of the insane. These were first cared for in the provincial penitentiary, situated first at Lower Fort Garry and afterward at Stony Mountain, but in 1884 the Provincial Government, recognizing the need for separate care of mental patients, appointed Dr. David Young as medical superintendent of the projected mental hospital at Selkirk. In 1886 the first buildings were completed, and Dr. Young remained at the head of the institution till 1912, when he retired to private life.
Dr. Young was born in 1847 and graduated in medicine from Queen’s University, Kingston, in 1871. In June of that year he came to Manitoba and engaged in practice near Lower Fort Garry. He was married in the following year, and he and his wife for many years dispensed hospitality in their charming home on the bank of the Red River. The grasshopper plague of 1875 caused such scarcity of fresh vegetables that an epidemic of scurvy broke out, and Dr. Young laboured day and night to aid those suffering with that disease. As a psychiatrist he brought qualities of skill, insight and kindliness into his treatment of the mentally afflicted. He died in Winnipeg 16 October 1931, at the advanced age of 84 years, and was buried in Little Britain Cemetery, near his old home on the Red River.
In addition to Bird, William Cowan, Schultz, O’Donnell and Lynch, whose political activities have already been mentioned, many early doctors of Manitoba played their parts in provincial politics. In the Legislative Assembly of 1874, James Cowan first took his seat as member for High Bluff, and later was chosen by acclamation to represent Portage la Prairie, where he practised for many years. He died in 1910.
David Henry Wilson graduated as medallist of his class from Trinity Medical College, Toronto, in 1878, and started practice in Nelsonville, which as a county seat boasted a fine court house and seemed to have a bright future. When the Pembina Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway was built, Morden was chosen as the town site and Nelsonville was passed by. The inhabitants, among them Dr. Wilson, put their houses on skids and hauled them to the new location. In 1884 Dr. Wilson, who had been a member of the Legislative Assembly, became Provincial Secretary in the Norquay Government. He was one of the thirteen original incorporators of the Manitoba Medical College, secured the passage of the incorporating act, and was Professor of Diseases of Women in the college until he removed to British Columbia in 1894.
David Howard Harrison has the honour of being the sole medical premier of the province. True, he was premier for only twenty-three days, but he had the misfortune to head a party dispirited by the loss of its able chief, John Norquay, and ripe for defeat. Graduating from McGill in 1864, he practised medicine in St. Mary’s, Ontario, until 1882, when he moved to Manitoba, settled at Newdale, and operated a large farm. In 1883 he was elected member for Minnedosa, and three years later he was sworn in as Minister of Agriculture, Statistics and Health in the Norquay Government. He became premier in December, 1887, but resigned in January, 1888, when a government candidate was defeated in a by-election. In the ensuing general election his party was beaten and he retired to private life. He died at Vancouver in 1906.
A pioneer physician, whose name is held in affectionate remembrance for her ministry to the sick and suffering settlers, was Charlotte Whitehead Ross. In 1875, though already married, she graduated from the Women’s Medical College, Philadelphia, and was the first woman to practise medicine in Montreal. In 1878, her father, Joseph Whitehead, who, as a young man, had fired Stephenson’s first locomotive, “The Rocket,” and her husband, David Ross, went west to build Section 15 of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Three years later Dr. Ross, with her children, joined her husband at Whitemouth in eastern Manitoba.
Though Dr. Ross had the care of her children and her home she was obliged to make use of her professional knowledge and skill in caring for the medical needs of the settlers in her district. In order to visit her patients she made use of many means of transport locomotive, hand-car, caboose, sled and buckboard. For many years the Ross home at Whitemouth was a centre of religious, social and cultural influence. She died at Winnipeg in 1916, and the Charlotte W. Ross Gold Medal awarded annually in obstetrics and diseases of children perpetuates her memory.
The first woman physician of Winnipeg was Dr. Amelia Yeomans, whose name first appears in the register of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba in the year 1885. She was a strong temperance advocate and, for that day, an advanced feminist.
Dr. J. H. O’Donnell, who has already been mentioned, wrote an account of his experiences under the title, Manitoba as I Saw It, 1869 to Date. The book, dedicated to Alexander Hugh Ferguson, Surgeon, Chicago, who had been one of the leading surgeons of Winnipeg, gives a clear account of the troublous times which attended the birth of the new province.
H. Aubrey Husband, before moving from Edinburgh to Manitoba in 1885, had won distinction as a writer of medical text-books, remarkable for lucidity and conciseness: The Students Handbook of the Practice of Medicine, which went into several editions; Sanitary Law; Nurse and Baby; The Student’s Pocket Prescriber and Medical Jurisprudence. Particularly in the latter subject he was an authority, not only by virtue of his book, but through his lectureship in the Extra-Academical School of Edinburgh on Medical Jurisprudence and Public Health. He was born on the family estate in Jamaica, and obtained his medical education in Edinburgh, where he received the degrees BSc, MB, MC, FRCSE.
With the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Manitoba became a Mecca for the adventurous and enterprising. With the great influx of settlers attracted by the fertility of the soil, the ease of cultivation, and the promise of free homesteads, the new province offered many attractions to the professional man, who saw in it not only possibilities for the present, but future opportunities for his family. Dr. Husband began practice at old Milford, and as his professional fame spread, he became so busy that he required a partner, whom he found in Dr. Brand of Wawanesa. Dr. Husband moved to that town, so beautifully situated on the Souris, and practised there until 1900, when he retired to his farm. In 1904 he returned to Jamaica, to take possession of the estate which he had inherited, and continued there until his death in 1932 at the venerable age of eighty-eight years and nine months.
The advantages of this western country newly opened for settlement are set forth in Thirteen Years on the Prairies by John Pyne Pennefather, M.D., published at London in 1892. The reasons which induced him to come to this new land were, as he states, “an inherent love of change and four sons growing up.” He arrived in Winnipeg on 14 April 1880, in the midst of a wild snowstorm, and, buying 640 acres of land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, began farming. In the spring of 1885 the North-West Rebellion broke out on the Saskatchewan, and Dr. Pennefather, the son of a distinguished soldier, became chief medical officer in General Strange’s column, and was under fire at Frenchman’s Butte. His experiences in this campaign are described in the book. He was born at Poona, Bombay, in 1833, his father being in the service of the East India Company. He was educated for the army, but an accident to his foot led him to study medicine. Graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, as a surgeon in 1854, he went out to India in charge of a large force, but returned to obtain a degree in 1859 from the Royal College of Physicians. He practised at Corsham in Wiltshire, then went to London where he practised as a Harley Street specialist, being surgeon to the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of Ear and Throat, on St. James’s Street, Soho, where he was associated with Sir Morrell MacKenzie. He was the founder of the first free dispensary in London for the treatment of diseases of the ear. From 1878 to 1880 he lived the life of a country gentleman on his estates in Ireland. Then, appreciating “the inducements which this great land holds out as a home for the redundant Anglo-Saxon race,” he came to Manitoba.
After his experiences in the 1885 Rebellion, he practised in Winnipeg until 1903, when he opened a sanatorium at Holland, Manitoba, but returned to Winnipeg in 1906. He died on 14 April 1913, on the anniversary of his arrival in Winnipeg, in his eightieth year.
In addition to the book mentioned he wrote Finale to Dame Europia’s School, The Past and Passing Events, and contributed regularly to the Dublin University Magazine in prose and poetry. Several of his short poems are of considerable merit.
With the coming of the railway to Manitoba and the consequent rapid development of the country, we reach a period well within the memory of many now living, and here a halt must be called. The list of doctors mentioned is not to be considered complete. The whole cast has not been given, but the principal actors have been summoned, and have made their bow before you. Perhaps a fleeting reference might be made to doctors who distinguished themselves as explorers and who for a time at least found shelter, and an outfitting point, in Fort Garry: Sir John Richardson, the companion of, and searcher after, Sir John Franklin; Dr. John Rae, who led five Arctic explorations, discovered the fate of Franklin, and surveyed the line for the telegraph between Winnipeg and Victoria; Sir James Hector, second in command of the Palliser Expedition, whose monument is situated at the Great Divide; and Dr. W. B. Cheadle, who traversed this country in 1862-63 with young Lord Milton, and nearly lost his life crossing the Rockies by Jasper House.
Looking back on the records of these early medical men who saw a vast empire inhabited first by the Indian and the buffalo, come under the domain of the white man, the fur trader give way to the farmer, and the birch-bark canoe and the Red River cart vanish before the steamboat and the locomotive, we may say, “There were giants in those days.”
Page revised: 25 April 2010